As big matchup goes, this one is huge. On several levels.
First, there is the pure physical stature of the players involved – Mike Williams, the Seahawks’ 6-foot-5 leading receiver; and Nnamdi Asomugha, the 6-2, 210-pound Pro Bowl cornerback for the Oakland Raiders.
Then, there is their roles in a pivotal Week 8 matchup between a Seahawks team that has won back-to-back games, including one on the road two weeks ago in Chicago against a Bears team that was 4-1; and a Raiders team the slapped a franchise-record 59 points on the Broncos in Denver last week.
But there’s also the fact that these two were teammates briefly in 2007, and also played against each other when Williams was at USC and Asomugha was at Cal.
Adding one last element of intrigue to this already tantalizing game within the game is the not-so-little detail of the Raiders moving Asomugha around this season – often to cover the opposition’s leading receiver, or biggest receiver – after he played predominantly on one side in seasons past.
“It’s all going to come down to competition,” Williams said Wednesday after practice. “You always try to find out where you are when you’re going against a top guy. In my opinion, over the last few years he is probably one of the top guys, if not the top guy.
“So it’ll be fun.”
Fun? That, in a single word, might best answer all the questions Williams continues to get about how he was able to come from there (being out of the league the past two seasons) to where he is (having caught 21 passes for 210 yards in the past two games to give him 32 for 348 for the season).
Mike Williams is having fun playing football again. It shows in the way he prepares for and during practice, has performed in the games and is approaching this matchup against a player who has earned his reputation as one of the best shutdown corners in the league – if not the best.
What makes Nnamdi Asomugha (it’s Nahm-Dee Ah-so-MU-wah; and pronounced best when said quickly) so good?
“I think his preparation,” Raiders coach Tom Cable said Wednesday when asked that question during a conference-call interview. “He’s obviously talented and all that, but he works every week and prepares himself every week to be the best. I think if you ask for one thing, just the way he prepares.”
And if you ask someone else that same question?
“He has extraordinary speed – great speed,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He has tremendous length, he is just as long as you can get. That wingspan that guys have – broad shoulders and long arms – allow them to almost just envelop guys as they come off the ball.
“He’s exactly what you’re looking for in a press corner. … He’s about as good as you could hope a guy to be.”
And if you ask Asomugha that same question?
“Preparation has a lot to do with it,” Asomugha said Wednesday, offering an on-the-same-page assessment. “My preparation, my film study all goes into it. It would probably be laughed at by most guys because you would think you don’t need to do that much in order to be successful.
“But I always want to be one step ahead and try to understand what’s going to happen before it happens. So preparation and then just being able to transfer the preparation on to the field, I think that’s a big thing because that just helps with your confidence level.”
Let’s see, we’ve got a suffocating corner with safety size, wide receiver speed and Lofa Tatupu-like preparation habits.
So why was Williams smiling while discussing his Oakland Coliseum reunion with Asomugha?
Because Williams also is playing with the confidence that comes with putting up career-best totals in receptions (11 vs. the Cardinals) and receiving yards (123 vs. the Bears) and scoring his first TD since 2006 (vs. the Cardinals) in the past two games. And, his game also is one of playing longer than his impressive height, stronger than his size (235 pounds) and faster than a receiver his size should be.While Williams’ renaissance season has caught some off guard, don’t count Cable and Asomugha among them.
“I’m not really surprised when a guy has proven it at the high school level and in college,” said Cable, who was the Raiders’ line coach when Williams was with the team. “I think it’s always there for him.
“How they get sidetracked or lose focus or whatever, that’s their business. But I think the thing you have to admire is he’s able to turn his career around. That tells you that he’s got great character and he’s looked in the mirror and said, ‘If I want to do this, I’ve got to straighten up.’ Whatever that is, he’s done those things. So you’ve got to take your hat off to him.”
Asomugha was willing to throw his hat in the ring with that assessment.
“He was a good player when he was here back then,” Asomugha said. “I think he’s always been a good player. So he’s definitely a guy that you can’t sleep on because he can take advantage of guys, especially with his power.”
Not to mention the power of positive thinking. Since signing with the Seahawks in April, Williams has treated question about his previous NFL stops like one of those Las Vegas TV commercials – you know, what happened in the past will stay in the past.
That’s because he’s too busy enjoying the here and now, even if it includes a matchup Sunday with the likes of Asomugha.
“I love playing football,” Williams said. “Just cleaning the slate and having an opportunity to play at the highest level and compete and be accountable and all the things that you want as a player. I’ve embraced my role on this team and I enjoy being here.
“I enjoy being around my teammates and having a lot of fun, and it carries over to how I play.”